Million Woman March Sets a tone
November/December 1997

Two million women of African descent gathered in Philadelphia on October 25, for the Million Woman March. The march, said the organizers, was not to atone but to set a tone. A busload of forty women from the Gainesville Area went to the march, and several members of that group reported to the campus community on November 6 at a program at the Institute for Black Culture.

Almost entirely ignored by the press before it happened, the march was organized through word of mouth and internet postings. Organizers estimated that 2 million women came to the march. Officials placed the number at 600,000.

Nkwanda Jah, of the Cultural Arts Coalition, will speak about her experience at the Million Woman March at the Gainesville Area National Organization for Women meeting on Thursday, December 4 at Our Place Cafe. The program starts at 7.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters spoke at the March. The following is a transcript of her comments:

I bring thanks to the phenomenal women who organized today's march ...and all the women who have worked so hard... I thank these grassroots women for understanding their power and making today a reality.

Today, my sisters, my 80-year old mother is sitting in her home watching this, this Million Woman March and rally. My mother will watch with great approval and joy as we all give voice to our hopes and our dreams. My mother will be deeply moved by the love and support we openly demonstrate for each other, our families and our community. You know, my mother is saying if I was just a bit younger I'd be there today myself. My mother has told all of her friends that her daughter is going to speak at the Million Woman March. My mother is proud today and I am absolutely ecstatic.

I am here today, I am here with African American women to talk to each other, to talk to America. My mother can't be here but several of her 13 children are here and some of her grandchildren are here. Today I speak for my mother, and her mother, and her mother's mother. I speak for the mothers long past, the mothers born into slavery, the mothers today and the mothers yet to be and the mothers unborn. I speak for black women and girls, for African American women, for colored women, for Negro women, for women who claim color, and for women who are even confused about color. I speak on behalf of sisters all. You know, there is the popular Negro spiritual with the refrain, "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free." Well, sisters, today my song is I speak because I'm so very happy, I speak today because I'm even sad, I speak today because I'm vulnerable, I speak today because I'm strong, I speak today because I'm fearless and I even speak today because of my fear. I speak today because I am a woman, a black woman, bonded with other black women, determined to love, to be loved, to grow, to create, to live. I speak today because I really have no choice. I speak because my very soul is stirred, inspired and excited. We the women, hailing from across this nation, all shapes, sizes and hues, have something to say today. I speak today because I am determined: we will all be free, we must be free. As a black woman, a mother, a wife, a grandmother and sister, I am you and you are me.

I came today as a legislator, as member of the Congress of the United States of America. I came despite the warnings not to come. I came despite the dire predictions of chaos. I came today to share with you my vision of our possibilities.

Lest someone else try to define us, let us set the record straight about who we are. We're 7% of the population, 78% of us have completed a highschool education...far too many of us are concentrated on low-paying jobs. We are married, we are single, our median income earning is $20,000 a year, we are middle-class, we are rich, and we are disproportionately poor. Despite the rhetoric of the right-wing politicians, we are not the welfare population in America. [Of women receiving welfare] 39% are [African American] compared to 55% white women. While white women earn 72 cents for every dollar earned by a white male, African American women are only earning 64 cents. 28.9 percent of African American women live in poverty compared to 9.8 percent of white women. Our life expectancy is 74.2 years compared to 79.6 years for white women and 77.1 years for Hispanic women. We die from heart attacks at twice the rate of other women; we die from strokes at 33% higher rate than white women, yet we're rarely included in the research of cardiovascular diseases. Although we develop breast cancer less frequently than white women, we die at higher rates. And AIDS, sisters, AIDS is the number one killer of African American women in this country yet our community receives less than our fair share of government dollars for AIDS education, prevention and treatment.

All of this, sisters, yet we are strong, we are determined, we are innovative, we are creative doers, survivors and winners. We love our children and our families. We believe in education, and we pray to God, Allah, Jehovah, and anybody else we think will listen.

Having said all of that, it is time to stop allowing others to define us. Rather, it is time for us to gather our collective intellect and our resourcefulness and confront the ills of our society that create roadblocks and obstacles to our success. We don't need anybody lecturing us about responsibility. We are profoundly responsible. We don't need to promise keep, atone, bemoan or scapegoat. We need to use our collective power to shape public policy, create opportunity, fight discrimination, racism, favoritism and old-boy network-ism.

Today we put America on notice. We do not march just for the sake of marching. We do not rally in the rain and the cold because we have nothing else to do. We are driven by our commitment to ourselves, our children, our families, to live in a fair and just society that respects us and our role in this nation and in this world.

We are sick of tired of illegal drugs, drug addiction, drug crime and violence. We are fighting drugs in our communities but we want the American government and American corporations to join us in a real war on drugs. According to the Black Community Crusade for Children, each day in America 94 African American children are arrested for drug offenses. 151 are arrested for crimes of violence, and 1,118 are victims of violent crime. This is every day. We insist on drug prevention resources in our schools, more recreational facilities in our neighborhoods, we will fight for after school activities, music and drama and arts programs in our communities and yes, sisters, I know more than anything we want an end to the scourge of drugs in our society.

America, I ask you today, will you join us in a real war on drugs? Will you discontinue the rhetoric, the phony, "just say no" campaigns? Will you stop building prisons for young, misguided African Americans and develop real public policy to divert our young people from prisons with jobs and opportunities? Will you end the senseless, racist and unfair disparities in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine? Will you stop the mandatory prison sentencing of young black men and women and arrest and convict the big time dope dealers in high places and the sophisticated money-launderers? Will you discontinue government intelligence community practices that allow the CIA and the DEA and the DIA to deal drugs to support their activities.

In 1994 black women comprised 82% of women sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. Black women today, sisters, represent 50% of the nations female population in prison. In fact, the 1994 figures indicate the number of African American women sentenced to more than one year in state and federal prisons grew at a faster rate than any other group. That 1994 rate increase--listen to this--the increase of African American women incarcerated was 225%. So sisters, we march and rally today because we want to put an end to a system of so called justice that imprisons 24 year old Kimba Smith, a junior in college, one of our best and our brightest. They sentenced Kimba to 24 years mandatory prison sentence charged with conspiracy not because they caught her with drugs, not because she was dealing in drugs, she happened to have a boyfriend who was dealing in drugs and now she is serving 24 years. We march today because we are going to free Kimba and other young blacks who are caught up in the criminal justice system that incarcerates young blacks who may be foolish, but they're not the real criminals. And yet, these small time offenders are incarcerated while this country is allowing dope to cross over our borders under the banner of trade and profit, while the drug cartels are using uninspected trucks that come across the borders from Mexico carrying cans, boxes, cartons and barrels of cocaine, disguised as food products and manufactured goods. Yes, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the so-called Fast Track legislation ignores this drug epidemic in a quest for profits for American businesses and corporations.

African American women must join with organized labor and fight further efforts by government to fast track trade with no questions asked. Our community's real war on drugs, I have called for a full investigation of the information that was unveiled by Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News, linking the sale of tons of cocaine in South Central Los Angeles to the CIA and funding of the Contras in a war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. I'm convinced the CIA did play a role in the explosion of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles in their efforts to fund the army of the Contras.

Presently, there are three investigations that are now being conducted. I am told we will have the results of these investigations in the next 30 60 days. It does not matter what they conclude, I am convinced, as are all of us who have gotten close to this, who have investigated this, Dick Gregory and I and others have been given this glimpse into the government intelligence community's use of drugs in their covert operations. African American women, we must insist on public policy that will prevent drug activities and involvement by tax supported CIA and other intelligence agencies. We need sensible and tough government policies to interdict drugs at the border, break up the drug cartels in Central America, crack down on the big banks and financial institutions that launder drug profits, support investments and drug eduction and prevention. Promote investment in our young people rather than expansion of tax supported prisons that incarcerate and warehouse young people.

We've got to have a frontal assault and a war on big-time drug dealers, that is what we rally about today. And African American women, we are not powerless, or helpless. African women in South Africa reminded us, when Winnie Mandela led that struggle against apartheid, she reminded everybody that now that you have touched the women, you have struck a rock. I add, and we will not be moved.

We call on government and elected officials to rethink what they do and how they do it. We call on a new politic of integrity and principled leadership. I ask my colleagues today in Washington to stop using race as a wedge issue. Stop the assault on affirmative action, stop the polarizing, back off the attacks, back off of the attacks on my people and our children.

We call on corporate America. Today, corporate America, we define who we are and what we want. We're not going to spend our dollars and consume your goods and services if you keep exporting our jobs to third world countries for cheap labor and exploiting women and children in other countries. We're not going to allow you to continue to discriminate in job opportunities. We're not going to allow your foundation funding to continue to bypass our communities. Do you hear me Nike? Do you hear me Eddie Bauer? Do you hear me Texaco? Are you aware Pitney Bowes? Where are you, Avis? Shell Oil, we're coming back after you. Remember South Africa and now Nigeria.

Today, we declare we will register more of our people to vote, and elect more people to office who represent our dreams and our hopes. We will elect politicians who respect us, and we will work to get rid of dishonest, polarizing politicians who divide America. We will also use our buying power to become more selective in our purchase of goods and products. To the banks and financial institutions, we want investment in our community, loans, credit to develop businesses and growth for our community. We're not going to allow you to launder drug money, and support the pain and devastation of drugs in our community while you redline us and deny us access to credit and investment. Do you hear me Citicorp?

We will leave here today, sisters, and we will go back to our communities, we'll go back to our jobs on Monday, back to our schools and our classrooms, back to our housing developments as welfare mothers struggling to survive in an atmosphere of mean spirited politics. We will go back to our leadership roles to fight against racism and marginalization. To our sisters who are homeless and incarcerated, we will never forget you, we will fight for you. After today we will never be the same.

This march, this rally, is truly a defining moment in all of our lives. America, be placed on notice, we know who we are, we understand our collective power, following today we will act on that power.
Transcribed by Jenny Brown.

If anyone who attended the march has a tape of Sister Souljah's speech there, or if anyone caught that speech on tape on C-Span, please call the Iguana at 378-5655. Thank you.

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